Chrysanthemum and Chamomile: Flower Teas
Flowers are a valuable ingredient for making herbal teas. The two most popular teas with flowers used as single herbs are chamomile in the West and chrysanthemum in the East. Other flowers, such of hibiscus, rose, lavender, orange, and tilia (linden), are used as flavor ingredients for a wide range of herbal beverage teas, while jasmine and osmanthus flowers impart an exotic flowery taste and aroma to green tea.
Both chamomile and chrysanthemum are in the same plant family: Asteraceae. There are two types of chamomile commonly used for teas, the “true” chamomile, or German chamomile, Matricaria recutita, which is most widely used and the basis of descriptions of chamomile below, and Roman chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile. There are also two basic types of chrysanthemum used in China (among several distinguished varieties): the standard herb, Chrysanthemum morifolium (known simply as juhua) and the “wild” chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum indicum (yejuhua). The British doctors Smith and Stuart, who were working in China at the end of the 19th Century, observed that for chrysanthemum “some difference is made by the Chinese in the uses of different varieties, although their therapeutic action is regarded as practically identical....any of these varieties, and especially ganju, will make a good substitute for chamomile (1).”
In the modern Chinese Materia Medica guides, chrysanthemum is listed among the cooling herbs for “relieving the surface” (or “releasing the exterior”), yet this placement may obscure the fact that the flowers have also been utilized to promote circulation, preserve vitality, and provide some properties akin to those of the tonic herbs. These aspects were relayed in Shennong Bencao Jing (2): “protracted taking may disinhibit the blood and qi, make the body light, slow aging, and prolong life.” In the book Maintaining Your Health (3), the Chinese tonic herbs are the primary ones described for long-term use with health protecting effects, but there is also an addendum listing fourteen herbs from other categories, including chrysanthemum:
Sweet, bitter, and cool-natured, chrysanthemum (juhua) has the potency to expel wind, clear away heat, calm the liver, improve acuity of sight, subdue inflammation, and expel toxic substances, and it has been used as an exterior syndrome relieving herb, pungent in flavor and cool in property, to treat wind-heat syndrome due to external pathogen, furuncle, carbuncle, and swelling. Recently, it has been used to treat coronary heart disease and hypertension. Research has shown that the main active principles of chrysanthemum [….with example given….] ensure the following pharmacological actions: improving the function of the cardiovascular system, preventing thrombosis, preventing and treating cardiovascular diseases, reducing fever, tranquilizing the mind, inhibiting bacteria, combating virus, retarding the onset of senility, and enhancing longevity.
Historically, chrysanthemum as a wine was one of the principal means of gaining long-term health-promoting properties (that is, other than dispelling wind-heat); for example, Smith and Stuart noted that the wine was “considered beneficial in a great variety of digestive, circulatory, and nervous afflictions.” Western herbalists considered chamomile as tonic and sedative (for nervous afflictions), and it is also considered of value for digestion. So, we see a somewhat parallel development for these two mild herbs arising from different traditions.
Chrysanthemum (juhua) has been cultivated since ancient times as a decorative plant, and so the designation of another species as “wild” (yejuhua) is in contrast to the garden variety, but in modern China both medicinal varieties are obtained in large quantities from cultivated plants. Yang Yifan (4) describes the main types based on color (bai = white; huang = yellow); taste (gan = sweet), and source (ye = wild variety), starting with the standard Chrysanthemum morifolium
There is huangjuhua, the yellow flower, which is sometimes called hangjuhua, as it comes from Hangzhou....Huangjuhua especially enters the lung meridian; it is more effective for expelling wind-heat in the upper burner and is often used in cold infections, feverish sensations in the head, and headache. It can also be used for acute infections of the eyes, such as acute conjunctivitis...the steam from juhua decoction can be used for painful and itchy eyes...moreover, the cool decoction can be used externally to wash the affected eye.
Baijuhua, the white flower, is also called ganjuhua, which means sweet juhua. It is also sometimes call chujuhua because the white juhua growing in Chu county is considered to have the best quality. Baijuhua is sweeter and cooler [than huangjuhua], and can slightly generate yin and clear heat. Because it enters the liver meridian, it is more effective in cooling and pacifying the liver and benefiting the eyes. It is used for dizziness, blurred vision, dry eyes, and a tired feeling in the eyes, which are caused by yin deficiency or yin deficiency with uprising liver yang....
Yejuhua is bitter and neutral. It can reduce heat and remove heat-poison. It is used for all types of boils, furuncles, and carbuncles with localized erythema, swelling, heat, and pain. This herb can also be used topically; the smashed fresh yejuhua can be applied to the affected region as a compress to reduce swelling and pain...
Thousand Formulas and Thousand Herbs of Traditional Chinese Medicine (5) offers a simplified version of this analysis: yellow chrysanthemum for dispelling wind-heat; white for pacifying liver yang, clearing liver heat, and brightening the eyes, and yejuhua for detoxifying. Aside from the chrysanthemum from Hangzhou or Chu County, other locations that specialize in growing chrysanthemum also label their products; for example Anhui Province is now a major producer, and one of the famous growing regions is Huangshan (Yellow Mountains), so there is huangshan juhua.
The detoxiant properties of chrysanthemum were captured in the popular Chinese instant tea product called “Double Stuff,” a combination of lonicera and chrysanthemum flowers, used for alleviating severe skin disorders. A “Triple Stuff” formula (Sanhua Cha; three flower tea) is described in the book ChineseMedicinal Teas (6), which additionally contains jasmine flowers; the book also presents herbal teas that combine chrysanthemum flower with morus leaves along with one, two, or three other herbs.
Upper left: Chrysanthemum flowers; this is C. morifolium with yellow flowers. Upper middle: ready-to-drink chrysanthemum tea in a can. Upper right: “double stuff” instant tea crystals (sugar base). Lower left: one of many packaged chrysanthemum products for making tea from the flowers; this one contains both chrysanthemum and chamomile with a green tea base.